By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, December 6, 2018
Swimming gave Kaylin (Burchell) Garner many things.
Lasting friendships. The knowledge and experience to know how to be a team player. Discipline and time management. Persistence and a strong worth ethic.
But most importantly, swimming introduced her to her husband, Clark.
The two met as fellow swimmers at the University of Alabama, and it didn’t take long for them to fall in love.
Shortly after she graduated in 2015, they married, and 10 weeks ago today, they welcomed daughter, Mila, into their lives.
Now that she’s had a few years to reflect and look back on her swimming career, Garner said the thing about her post-swimming life that surprises her the most is how much she still misses it.
“My life post swimming has been a busy one for sure,” said Garner, who retired from competitive swimming in 2015 following her senior season at Alabama because of financial reasons. “I’ve had some time to reflect on my life as a swimmer, but I often find that it’s something that is ongoing still.
“Collegiate swimming was the best decision I ever made and was more than I ever dreamed of. Swimming gave me some of the best friendships I’ll ever have, and even led me to meet my husband. I would do it all over again 1000 times over – even those awful 3,000’s for time.”
A registered nurse (RN) working for a neurosurgeon in Hattiesburg, Miss., Garner lives north of town in Mize, Miss. – Clark’s hometown.
She is currently furthering her education at the University of Mississippi Medical Center while balancing life as a working mom and wife.
She said she wanted to be a nurse as far back as she can remember. When she knew she was going to swim in college, she changed her dream because nursing wasn’t an easy major to balance with competitive swimming and training.
She went in another career direction but ultimately went back to nursing after she graduated from Alabama.
“I’ve always been the caregiver type,” said Garner, a health studies and nutrition major at Alabama. She started nursing school at Mississippi right after graduating from Alabama in 2015. “In team-building activities, I was often called the ‘team mom.’
“There’s nothing more rewarding than caring and doing for others. Nursing has filled the void I was missing from ending my swimming career.”
Garner’s road to nursing school – and away from a future in swimming – began shortly after graduation. Clark was already studying at Mississippi, so when her lease expired in August 2015, she packed up and moved to Hattiesburg to join him.
With bills and rent, she had to get a job, which made swimming less than a viable option – not to mention, she was accepted into nursing school.
“Once I received acceptance in addition to financial issues, I ultimately made my decision to retire,” said Garner, who picked up swimming when she joined a local country club in her hometown when she was 5.
A year later, Garner said she watched Olympic Trials in Omaha with reluctance and some regret.
Feeling like she would have had a legitimate shot at making the Olympic team that year based on her senior year at Alabama – finishing as the runner-up in the 100 breaststroke and 5th in the 200 breast at NCAAs and being named the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Swimmer of the Meet – she struggled with her decision to end her swimming career.
But, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds, and she said she feels she’s finally reached a point where it doesn’t bother me as bad any more.
“I think every swimmer dreams of being an Olympian,” said Garner, who qualified for the 2015 Pan American Games team before deciding to retire. “It’s the ultimate goal.
“I didn’t really know there was a point in my swimming career that I had something ‘special’ until I made my first Olympic Trials cut when I was 14. However, I’m not one to get overly excited about anything. If I accomplished one goal, I was ready to start working on the next. It was always a process.”
As a competitor, Garner said she also admits she was very hard on herself – she’s a self-described perfectionist – and wishes she would have enjoyed the process.
She also wishes now that she would have tried hard to find a way to keep swimming, but hindsight is 20/20, and she has no plans to return to competition any time soon – or ever.
“At one point, I was thinking of making a comeback for 2020 and actually was practicing on a consistent basis,” said Garner, who was a member of the Junior National team when she was in the eighth grade and was a member of the 2015 U.S. National Team. “But life changed, and I graduated nursing school and decided that was my new passion.
“I don’t swim, and for a long time, I didn’t want to be around the pool due to my bad break-up with the sport. However, since having my daughter, I look forward to the days of teaching her to swim.”